Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Sunday's Sermon (if you go to Trinity, Milton DON'T READ THIS!!!)





       When I arrived at Virginia Seminary as a Middler (a second year student) I had been told that Introduction to New Testament was a class that eliminated at least one first year student a year.

       I'd studied at Harvard Divinity School for two year prior to that and had taken several courses in New Testament. But I was curious and went to the first meeting of New Testament 101 just to see what happened.

       The professor, Associate Dean Dick Reed, lectured for about 20 minutes about what is true about New Testament studies--we don't have a clue what really happened.

       That's simply the Truth—we have no idea, really, about how accurate the Gospels are.

       Then a young man interrupted and asked Dean Reed, “Doctor Reed, could you tell me how many of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels are 'authentic'?

       Dick Reed looked at him for a long moment. “Do you really want to know?” he asked the young man.

       “Yes,” the student replied.

       Professor Reed took a deep breath and then asked, “are you really sure you want to know? I mean, really sure?”

       The student nodded.

       Dr. Reed shook his head, smiled and said, “about half a dozen”. He then went on to explain that the half-dozen or so 'authentic' sayings of Jesus are believed to be 'authentic' because what Jesus says is something the early Church wouldn't have recorded unless it was pretty sure Jesus actually said those words. The 'easy' stuff could have been said by Jesus or the writers of the Gospels could have put the words in his mouth.


       Today's lesson has two saying that could be authentic since the early church would have had no reason to have them that I can see.


       The first one is that odd and inexplicable idea that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin. Certainly, the early church—the second or third generation of Christians who wrote the Gospels—had no idea whatsoever what blaspheming against the Holy Spirit meant.

       Neither has anyone since. Nobody knows what that means.

       It is such a remarkably obscure and incomprehensible saying that surely it wouldn't have been included in the Gospel if the oral tradition hadn't been certain that Jesus had actually said it.

       There is no definitive answer about what that saying means, but let me give you my cut on it anyway. This isn't 'the Truth', it's just a thought I have.

       What if we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit by our “resignation”?

       Whenever we are 'resigned' that 'things are the way they are and there is no possibility of changing that', then the Spirit's power is diminished and extinguished. “No possibility” denies the Spirit's power and accepts the Lie that 'things are just the way they are and there's nothing we can do about it.'

       Resignation, even if it isn't the Sin against the Holy Spirit is the death knell for the Spirit's power in our lives.


       Then, only a few verses later, Jesus' mother and brothers come to do an 'intervention' because they think he's gone a little crazy and Jesus not only refuses to see them, he seems to indicate he's not part of that family any more.

       If you think about it, Jesus never was very devoted to his mother. When he's 12 he stays behind in the Temple talking to the priests while Mary and Joseph were searching for him high and low. At the Wedding in Cana, when Mary approaches him about the problem with the wine, his initial response is, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?” Even on the cross in John's gospel, he calls her 'woman' and tells her that the beloved disciple is her son and she is his mother.

       And then there's today--”Who is my mother and my brothers?” he asks. “Those who do the will of God are my mother and sisters and brothers.

       Pretty harsh stuff. Why would Mark have included that if it wasn't a basic part of the oral tradition?

       My father always hated this portion of the gospel. How could the King of Love, my father wondered, be so unloving toward his own flesh and blood?

       However. I think there is a deep wisdom is realizing “family” is more than mere blood. “Family” is often a relationship we create.

       I'm an only child. I have no blood sisters or brothers. And every time I start feeling I've missed something, all I have to do is talk for a while with someone who HAS SIBLINGS and I don't feel so bereft....Besides, I was the next to youngest of 19 first cousins. Some of them were like brothers and sisters you didn't have to live with!

My wife has a brother and sister, both older than her. Her sister is dead and her brother is a late vocation Roman Catholic priest in West Virginia, and neither ever married. So, our children have NO first cousins. And besides, we live far away from our roots.

       So, for our sakes and the sake of our children, we “created” Family.

       For over 30 years we've had close friends over for major holidays. I'm as close to those people as I could be to siblings.

       And I've always been blessed to be part of wonderful communities. You. As short as our relationship has been, are 'family' to me.

       I don't for a moment want to denigrate “blood family”. Every moment I'm with my son and daughter and their partners and my grandchildren is precious to me.

       And, there is something about sharing the journey to the Lover of Souls with you; something about seeking to find and be found by God with you; something about sharing the family table to feed and be fed by each other—there's simply something about that which bonds us together in a profound and holy way. It's what makes me say, as I give you the Bread of Life, “Brother/Sister, the Body of Christ.”

       To quote those well-known theologians, Sly and the Family  Stone: “We Are Family—my brothers and my sisters and me.”



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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.